A chat with Greg Nicotero, make-up and effects wizard of “The Walking Dead”

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With 124 make-up credits and 64 effects credits to his name so far, Greg Nicotero is one of the busiest and most respected make-up and effects professionals in Hollywood. Originally inspired to take up special effects after seeing “Jaws,” he broke into the business working for the legendary gore-effects maestro Tom Savini on zombie-master George Romero’s 1985 splatter opus, “Day of the Dead. ”

A few years later, Nicotero had decamped from Romero’s Pittsburgh’s to show-biz’s Los Angeles and formed the multi-award winning KNB Efx Group with friends Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Aside from his intimate involvement in such effects heavy films as “Sin City,” “Kill Bill,” “Minority Report,” “Serenity,” “Spiderman 3” and, yes, “Ray,” Nicotero has also branched out into directing, helming the second unit on Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” and making his own short subject, a funny and endearing homage to several generations of classic movie monsters, “United Monster Talent Agency.”

When I met with Nicotero and last Summer’s Comic-Con, however, it was to promote the already highly buzzed new AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which reunites Nicotero with writer-director Darabont in an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series. Premiering Halloween night, the show will be taking a more dramatic look at the cannibal zombie mythos originally created by George Romero in his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” combining slow-moving zombies with the kind of in-depth characterization and complex yarn-spinning that’s making the onetime “vast wasteland” of television into something more like the last refuge of classical storytelling.

There’s only one problem. I’m kind of scared to actually watch the thing. You see, much as I admire the craft of someone like Greg Nicotero, I’m not exactly the usual gorehound media-fan for whom the more, and more realistic, cinematic gore he can create, the better. There was no point in hiding it.

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It’s weekend box office time: “Kick-Ass” will kick..nah, forget about it

Easily the most ‘net hyped movie of the year not based on a Marvel superhero or collection thereof comes out this weekend, and while a monster hit isn’t expected, there will be some very long faces at Lionsgate if the comic-book adaptation “Kick-Ass” doesn’t collect at least about $20 million. I think they’ll be okay.

Kick-Ass

Indeed, if I were to bet, I’d expect the film to exceed expectations, if not this weekend, then later on in the run as the word of mouth among younger filmgoers gets out. True, as Jolly Carl DiOrio points out, it’s R-rating is a bit of a deterrent to the younger teens who’d no doubt love to see it but will have to come up with some clever maneuvers to check out this ultra-violent action non-super-powered superhero comedy any time too soon.

Of course, there’s more than a hint of controversy around “Kick-Ass.” It raised some hackles on its earlier British release and while getting mostly solid reviews, did so again stateside with a somewhat surprising one-star review from Roger Ebert. He seemed genuinely saddened and not amused by the spectacle of ultra-violence being meted out by, and later visited upon, the character of Hit Girl played by young superstar to be Chloe Moretz. Kenneth Turan, who’s often in the running for the title of the nation’s second most respected/well-known critic, admitted to being just a touch disturbed, but liked it and even declared it a pop-culture phenom. The interesting part is that Tarantino-negative Turan, who cites “Kill Bill” in his review, was utterly horrified by the violence in that film (the piece, or pieces, he wrote about it seem to have disappeared off the ‘net), while Ebert was beyond thoroughly amused.

It’s tempting for me to engage in a long speculation about other movies they’ve reviewed — a long time ago Ebert was somewhat similarly moved to anger by the finale of “The Dirty Dozen” but, much more recently, he defended, in amused but guarded fashion, “The Devils Rejects.”  But all there really is to say that what disturbs us, or doesn’t, and whether it does so in a good or bad way, is a highly individual and idiosyncratic matter and it behooves all of us critical types to remember that. Anyhow, whatever controversy there is will no doubt only feed the beast and expectations are for it to go from anywhere between $20 to $30 milliion this weekend and almost certainly taking the top  spot.

Death at a FuneralThe other major new release this week is Sony’s “Death at the Funeral,” a Neil Labute-directed remake of an identically-titled Frank Oz-directed British comedy from just a couple of years back with a primarily, but not exclusively, African-American cast. (Or, as Carl DiOrio would put it, the cast “skews to urban demos.”) Since the African-Americans in question are Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, and Danny Glover while Dominican-American Zoe Saldana, white dude James Marsden and little person Peter Dinklage make for a bit of added diversity, this R-rated comedy should play well with a reasonably broad audience.

Jolly Carl says “a debut in the high-teen millions seems doable.” Still, with possible strong showings for holdovers like “Date Night” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” the box office results could be close on Sunday. While the reviews are not at all particularly good, the original did better with reviewers but didn’t exactly make critics do handstands.

In limited release, we have actually too many interesting small movies to mention this week including the amusingly titled “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.” (Shame the trailer isn’t as amusing.) However, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” looks to be one of the bigger documentaries likely to come out for a while, while the social satire “The Joneses” with David Duchovny and Demi Moore is dividing critics in general, much as it divided our own David Medsker in particular. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s getting a relatively large first week for this kind of film with 192 screens.

The Joneses

  

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OMG! WTF!! NSFW!!! New Ultra-Red Band “Kick-Ass” trailer lives up to its name

There’s really not much more to say about  definitely the most profane and insanely brutal — in a fun, “Kill Bill” via “Watchmen” kinda way — trailer I might have ever seen. If you’re of age and don’t mind very rough talk and a bit of souped-up painfully funny comic-book ultra-violence, take a look, for sure.

Just in time for the holidays! Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage are quite a pair, don’t you think?

If you’re not familiar with “Kick-Ass,” you might want to refer to this earlier post for a bit of background on the movie and its marketing.

Thanks to Trailer Addict.

  

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Celluloid Heroes: Best Characters of the Decade

There are a lot of variables that go into making a successful movie – actors, writers, directors, producers, and all of the other overlooked crew members – but even if everything is done exactly right, it doesn’t mean anything without a good character. And at the end of the day, that’s what people remember the most when they leave the cineplex. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, I present you with a list of the best characters of the decade. Obviously, some cuts had to be made (notable omissions include The Joker, Batman and Derek Zoolander), so feel free to comment on which of your favorite characters didn’t make the cut.

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10. Spider-Man

The web-slinger would probably make a list of best characters in any decade-end review of comic books, but this is the first time he can even be considered for a movie list. Thank Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” for that, because without its success, there’s a good chance we may have never seen Spider-Man jump to the big screen. Sam Raimi definitely deserves credit for adapting the character without all the cheese of the 60s TV series, but it’s Tobey Maguire’s strong performance that really brings the character to life. Although many claim the second film to be the best in the series, we think that all three have their own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, Peter Parker may lose some of his appeal when he goes all emo in “Spider-Man 3,” but seeing Spidey rock the black symbiote suit was just as cool as anything he did in the first two films.

Memorable Quote: “You know who I am. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

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9. Jigsaw

Say what you will about the deteriorating quality of the “Saw” films: Jigsaw is right up there with Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger as one of the ultimate horror icons. What makes him so different from the others, though, is that he’s a fairly regular guy (when he dies, he really dies) who isn’t so much a villain as he is someone who goes to radical extremes to get his point across. Though his argument that he doesn’t ever kill anyone could be debated for eternity, Jigsaw is still a pretty badass dude. Not only is he one of the most inventive baddies to ever grace the silver screen, but the fact that he’s doing all of this while dying from cancer is beyond impressive. Tobin Bell may never be remembered for anything other than his work in these films, but his limited appearances are so memorable that we wouldn’t really mind.

Memorable Quote: “I want to play a game.”

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8. Wolverine

Though it’s difficult to think of anyone other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, it certainly could have ended up that way. You can go ahead and thank the comic book gods for interfering, because if Dougray Scott hadn’t gotten hurt while shooting “Mission: Impossible 2,” “X-Men” fans might have seen a decidedly different take on their beloved adamantium-laced berserker. And since Wolverine has since become the mascot for those films (even earning a mediocre spin-off of his own) that also would have affected the movie as a whole, which might have stopped the whole comic book movie revolution before it even began. Just think about that the next time you see Jackman in his role as the wise-cracking, cigar-chomping mutant, because without his charismatic, star-making performance, this list would look a lot different.

Memorable Quote: “I’m gonna cut your goddamned head off. See if that works.”

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Hollywood, land of confusion

Today, much of the confusion appears to be ethnic.

* Patrick Goldstein presents the U.K. based “Case of the Vanishing and Less Famous African-Americans.

* Universal is “circling” a director of commercials named Carl Erik Rinsch for a shot at the big time for a new action flick, writes Michael Fleming. Rinsch, who I never heard of until now, turns out to have an pretty interesting visual approach (more about that in tonight next’s post), but these days every third movie is from some first-timer whose made his or her name doing commercials. Also, Keanu Reeves is the star. Nothing surprising or strange about that, I guess. No, what’s of interest here is that the movie is a new version of the story of the loyal 47 Ronin (leaderless samurai), an oft-filmed national legend — in Japan, that is.

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Okay, so Reeves is part-Asian, but his looks are sort of those of a vaguely ethnic white guy, which is usually neither here nor there, but this isn’t “Shogun” or “The Last Samurai” — it’s not a story about some random westerner who finds himself in 18th century Japan. Or maybe it is now. I don’t like pre-judging movies but this just gives me a bad feeling. The 47 Ronin is a dearly held national legend of Japan and they’re going to make a seemingly super-Americanized English language version, and starring this guy?

I know there’s such a thing as non-traditional casting, but this is just weird. Samurai are not merely part Japanese and really can’t be. Remember Boss Tanaka from “Kill Bill” and his reaction to taking orders from a woman who was Chinese-Japanese American? Quentin  Tarantino is one big-time Western filmmaker who knows something about Asian culture; I wonder if there are any others. If any movie were to give Japan’s growing nationalist far-right a boost, this could be it.

But it’s only a movie, right? So, let’s see some Japanese filmmakers get to do a version of the Alamo or the Shoot-Out at the O.K. Corral starring some vaguely Caucasian-looking Japanese actor as Wyatt Earp/Davey Crockett and film it in Japanese. I wonder how that would do in the States. I also wonder what our own ranting nativists would make of that.

Tadanobu Asano* But poetic semi-justice is swift, because also from the mighty pen of Michael Fleming comes the word of casting the “Warriors Three” by Kenneth Branagh of the upcoming “Mighty Thor” flick. Alongside the traditionally more or less Nordic looking Stuart Townsend and Ray Stevenson (who I guess will be wearing a fat suit of some sort as Valstagg or gaining a lot of weight, or will just be the trimmest Falstaff knock-off ever), Branagh has taken the interesting step of going full mongol on the character of Hogun, who was partially modeled on Charles Bronson, by casting the Japanese actor who actually starred in “Mongol” (and Takashi Miike’s probably-never-to-be-seen-by-me gangster gorefest, “Ichi the Killer”), Tadanobu Asano. Yes, this is not your father’s lily-white Asgard.

* Mel Gibson adds to the confusion/mystery around “Max Max 4.”

* And, finally, in non-ethnically based confusion, Nikki Finke reports Carl Icahn appears to be mucking about with the MGM sale, and the ever-opinionated Devin Faraci (well, he’s a pussycat next to Ms. Finke, but who isn’t?) has some interestingly contentious thoughts on the state of geek-oriented film journalism and Julia Styles/Spiderman/Black Cat rumors.

  

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